By Jean Lotus
“One Industry United” was the theme of the Southeast Hemp Association’s 4th Annual Industrial Hemp Summit, held virtually Feb. 22 – 23 from the Danville, VA., campus of conference partner the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research.
About 230 participants from 28 states attended the event, which covered topics ranging from the state of the industry and market opportunities, as well as financing, state regulations, legal policy, genetics and testing.
“Putting together a 5,000-piece puzzle blindfolded and with the pieces constantly shifting,” is how Marty Clemons, board chair of the SHA described the emerging industrial hemp industry in a statement.
“It is imperative that we collaborate in a professional and transparent manner to create a sustainable industry,” she added.
The summit has a B2B focus, without exhibitions and much smaller public attendance. Previous events were held in person at IALR, and plans are to return to an in-person event in post-pandemic 2022.
Panelists and speakers at the event included Chase Hubbard, economic analyst at The Jacobsen and Eric Steenstra, executive director of Vote Hemp; along with Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services policy analyst Erin Williams; Chad Ulven, plastics engineering professor at North Dakota State University; and test lab specialists Volker Bornemann, and Rebecca Hobden.
Growers of sativa-style CBD hemp are learning to cooperate and promote best practices for the safety of the consumer, said said organizer Blake Butler, Southeastern Hemp Association’s executive director.
The pandemic appears to have “gotten rid of some bad actors” in the CBD space, he said.
And as industrial hemp expands from the CBD and flower market into fiber and grain, it’s time to take a look at the history of the region and how to reinvigorate former infrastructure, like railroads and the old textile belt in Georgia, and the Carolinas, said Butler.
Danville itself formerly employed 18,000 residents in a now-shuttered textile factory into the 1970s.
“We can tap right back into what exists and look at what can be done today,” Butler told Let’s Talk Hemp.
At the same time, by looking at the steps in the supply chain, the journey from growers of fiber and food to manufacture of finished products will take collaboration and long-range thinking, he said.
“People know more than ever before as we look at fiber, to not make the same mistakes we made in the floral and CBD space,” Butler said. “We need an overall business plan and a three-to-five year commitment to grow this supply chain,” he added.
The institute’s roots date back to the 1998 national Big Tobacco settlement, which helped fund the organization’s research and campus in Danville, in partnership with Virginia Tech and Averett Universities and Danville Community College.
With biology, chemistry and even a polymer lab the institute is a “toolbox for the region to use,” said Mark Gignac, executive director of the Institute.
The shrinking tobacco and textile industries and national consolidation of farming in the Southeastern United States has left a void for regional farmers that industrial hemp can help to fill, said Gignac.
“The reemerging industry of industrial hemp provides diversification and growth opportunities” he said. Collaborative networking at the summit is a way to help build that new growth, he saide.
“We’ve kind of come full circle,” Gignac told Let’s Talk Hemp.
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Jean Lotus is a Colorado-based award-winning journalist and hempreneur who writes about the American West and sustainable food and technologies.